Located in the tropical and subtropical regions, with the Tropic of Cancer running across its center, Taiwan is an island of marked seasonal changes with an average minimum of 9.4°C in January and a maximum of 34.2°C in July. Typhoons and heavy rainfall followed by flooding often affect Taiwan, destroying protected agricultural facilities.
In Taiwan, aside from typhoons, growers face challenges, including heavy rainfall and high temperatures, which are major constraints to growing vegetables during the summer. As a result, the supply of vegetables during this season is unpredictable, market prices are high in summer and fluctuate throughout the year. An economic and practical design for a hydroponic system in Taiwan must thus consider, not only the hydroponic technique itself, but also the greenhouse structure in order to overcome
these difficulties (Kao 1990).
Taiwan's hydroponics effort is officially supported. In 1986, the Council of Agriculture under the Executive Yuan included the promotion of hydroponics in its overall plan to develop intensive agriculture in Taiwan.
In addition, the Taichung Agricultural Improvement Station (TAIS), located in Chang Hua County in central Taiwan, also works to promote hydroponics in Taiwan. TAIS is under the Department of Agriculture and Forestry of the Taiwan Provincial Government.
According to Kao Der-cheng, a researcher with TAIS, there are around 50 hydroponics ‘Green Factories’ throughout Taiwan and close to 20 hectares of land use water culture. With growing prosperity in Taiwan, consumers are demanding hygienic, high quality vegetables free of pesticides, while growers, faced with frequent pest outbreaks in the hot, humid climate, have been tending to use too much pesticide over the past 30 years.
“As the standard of living in Taiwan has risen in recent years, people have begun to pay more attention to their health,” says Mr Der-cheng. “Vegetables grown by hydroponics are free of insecticides so business is quite promising.”
Taiwan Hydroponic Development Company
In the Shihlin District of Taipei City, the Taiwan Hydroponic Development Co., Ltd (THDC) is pioneering innovative, cost-effective solutions for growing crops in confined spaces within an urban environment.
“We are a young company with a small assembly location. We have developed a proprietary vertical growing system that fits in many places that traditional systems would not be practical, is easy to install, and even easier to maintain,” says Rob Virgin who manages the company.
“Our systems use this standard tube design in a variety of configurations to suit different installation requirements. “We designed the system for outdoor use in an urban tropical environment,” he says.
“Taiwan Hydroponic Development Co., Ltd was established to provide hobby and commercial growers with simple and affordable solutions for growing vegetables and other crops in a limited area with minimal maintenance.”
Responsible for most of the product development, Rob was raised on a rural family farm in Canada and has over 28 years’ of extensive product development experience in Asia. He has always maintained his interest in growing plants and in the development of new cultivation methods. His combined knowledge of agricultural, product development and manufacturing has allowed THDC to develop a cost-effective solution for growing food in large urban centers.
“At THDC, we believe hydroponic gardening does not need to be a complicated, expensive endeavour with indoor grow beds and specialised lighting. We want to make gardening accessible to everyone by taking the hassle out of it,” Rob says.
“People with busy urban lifestyles can now enjoy gardening with ease, while getting the satisfaction that comes from having their own safe food supply. Our vertical GrowTube systems with coir inserts take advantage of natural light and provide a stable, environmentally compatible growth environment.
“Vertical hydroponic grow systems make it possible to achieve high density production in a limited space. For the home gardener, this means that areas that were too small to be used for growing become feasible garden spots,” he says.
“The grower is also able to conserve water fertilizer inputs while maximizing crop production per area used. For the commercial grower, vertical production not only maximizes the use of space, but also decreases labour and other input costs.
“Whether used for hobby gardens, small herb and veggie patches or larger scale agricultural operations or research, vertical grow systems are one of the most efficient systems available,” Rob says.
“Our systems perform well outside in natural light, as well as indoors with properly installed artificial light. We have worked hard to develop closed vertical grow systems that are suited for urban environments. Our systems use eco-friendly grow media and efficiently use nutrients and additives in a sustainable way.”
So Why Choose Taipei as a Business Location?
“Due to its excellent growing conditions, Taiwan has always had an active traditional agricultural base. In addition, its vibrant manufacturing sector allows THDC to develop and test
“As mentioned, THDC started from an idea of providing consumers with an accessible, convenient and affordable method of growing their own leafy vegetables. Recently, consumer attitudes and expectations toward nutrition and food production have begun to change. People began to question traditional farming techniques that use pesticides and other additives to produce vegetables.
“The push toward organic products gathered strength, and organic shops opened in many neighbourhoods. However, while providing safer choices, the products were very expensive,” he says.
“While many people try to grow vegetables, limited space and the toil of traditional soil-based growing prevent many from succeeding. Added to this, pest and rain thwart the efforts of the remaining determined souls. There had to be a better way.”
Benefits of the GrowTube
According to Rob, THDC's patented vertical GrowTube system has several advantages over traditional hydroponic systems.
Efficient use of space: compact tower design allows higher production; anywhere from three to eight times more plants per meter with vertical growing;
Efficient use of inputs: less energy and less water (up to 85% savings on water);
Better control of root zone temperature, drainage and oxygen levels. THDC’s GrowTube design provides a fiber pocket to hold the grow media, while providing air columns along the fibre to give aeration a growth area;
Excessive rainfall is not a problem; root zone remains aerated and functioning efficiently in enclosed tubes;
Crops: the GrowTube system is suitable for growing arugula, amaranth, basella, lettuce, spinach, kang kong (water spinach), herbs, flowers, etc.;
GrowTube systems can be used indoors or outdoors;
Assemblies can be transported to different locations with resident plants intact. Growers can offer direct sales without removing plants from the grow system: clean, harvest standing up, no washing, etc.;
The systems are easier and less expensive to cover with shade or crop covers;
The systems are less expensive to fence and protect from animals or intruders;
They are durable, light and easy to maintain—less expensive than any other hydroponic systems.
Other benefits of the GrowTube systems include a long lifetime of reuse. The coconut coir growing media can be recycled and is eco-friendly.
“The coir provides a perfect, natural, bio-degradable, media for hydroponics that works to stabilise pH and other important system requirements,” Rob says. “Media is replaced approximately every two years, but while it is in the system, it acts to control pH, disease and naturally provides some basic nutrients.”
Challenges and Plans
According to Rob, THDC has faced a number of challenges in bringing the product to market. “With regards to product development and manufacturing, our challenges have been to develop a product, conduct testing, and begin manufacturing on a limited budget. “Because of the uniqueness of our system, accessory components that would complement the system are not available. We have had to develop these components ourselves, or find suitable existing components from other applications to fit our system,” he says.
“While there are many commercial hydroponic operations in Taiwan, consumer level systems and nutrients are not readily available. We have worked hard to offer stable, reliable systems.
“In terms of system performance, the typhoons in Taiwan have forced us to perfect systems that are easily stored and re-erected after storms pass. We thought the high summer temperatures would be problematic, but found that the coir fibre with vertical drainage functioned very well in this heat,” Rob says.
“We are improving performance by developing better water flow management and experimenting with localised solution cooling and better in-tube ventilation, exterior reflectors, etc.
“Because our system is self-contained, we found that our vertical GrowTube systems perform extremely well in heavy rain. The harder it rains, the better our plants look!”
“We are now ready to expand beyond the borders of Taiwan. We see this as a high-growth industry for the coming years and decades,” he says. “We’re actively seeking established importers and master distributors for all of our great products so please feel free to contact us.”
For further information visit: www.taiwanhydroponics.com
About the author
Christine Brown-Paul is a Sydney-based journalist and a regular
contributor to PH&G, with a special interest in the environment
This report is from: http://www.hydroponics.com.au/